Many children tell me that Hanukkah is their favorite holiday. I know they are thinking about presents, parties, sufganiyot (donuts), and dreidel games.
Hanukkah is actually a relatively minor Jewish holiday; it isn’t even mentioned in the Torah. But since it takes up such a big place in so many of our hearts, it’s worth reflecting on how we can make it especially meaningful. Here are some simple ways to bring out the beautiful Hanukkah themes of gratitude, warmth, and hope.
1. Focus on candle lighting. Nothing makes the holiday more memorable and important than sharing the moments of standing together in front of the menorah. These are the memories that will carry forward. Light is a metaphor.
2. Talk about the miracle. The legend of the oil that was supposed to last for just one day but that lasted for eight is imbued with hope and optimism. This is a beautiful teaching to share with our children.
3. Connect with family and friends. Whether you invite friends over for latkes or Facetime with grandparents or other relatives, Hanukkah invites us to share the light with others.
4. Give to the needy. How about designating one night for those in need? Instead of giving your children presents, teach your children how to give to those in need. Perhaps you could make out a bunch of checks in small amounts and your children can select the organizations to which you will donate. Or maybe you can make a stack of sandwiches and go out and distribute them to people in need on the streets. There are endless ways to help.
5. Spin the dreidel! In order to play dreidel you need to sit on the floor with your children and be completely present. You can’t check your cellphone because you might miss the moment when the dreidel lands on its letter. There is no gift we can give to our children as great as our full attention.
May this Hanukkah be filled with meaning and joy for you and your family.
Rabbi Samantha Natov is the assistant rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. Among her many roles, she leads our Family Experiences, an array of joyous and interactive services and activities for families with children.